Lewis and Clark Meet the Pacific

After living in Montana we have spent a lot of time learning about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific Ocean with the Corps of Discovery. We have hiked the Lewis and Clark pass, visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, and traversed many spots along their route west. So, we weren’t so sure how much more Lewis and Clark historical sites we would want to visit on our vacation to the west coast. However, it turns out that the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks are definitely worth the visit.

Our first stop was Cape Disappointment State Park which offers gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River. There was so much to do at this park that we ended up coming back for a second day and didn’t even complete all that there was to do. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment was very well done and offered many interactive activities for the Younger Fives. We really enjoyed the fact that the Interpretive Center focused more on the end of Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific.

In addition to the Interpretive Center we really enjoyed the hike out to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and the trail down to the beach. The views were phenomenal and we could have spent an entire day looking out over the water watching boats, surfers, and birds. We never made it out to the second lighthouse on site (North Head Lighthouse) and might have to return for a third visit.

At the Interpretive Center we learned a great deal that made us eager to visit other local sites that the Corps of Discovery explored. These included Middle Village/Station Camp and Dismal Nitch. We really loved the informative signs at Middle Village/Station Camp that explained a lot about the Chinook tribes that lived and thrived in the area before explorers came to this coast. Dismal Nitch was a huge hit with the Younger Fives who tried to imagine what it would be like to be stuck on a small piece of land for 6 very stormy days. It must have been so frustrating for Lewis and Clark to be within site of the Pacific Ocean but be trapped along the river in the unrelenting rain.

From Middle Village/Station Camp and Dismal Nitch we made our way south across the Columbia River to Fort Clatsop where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter months before heading back east. After being out in the winds at Cape Discovery and Station Camp we could really understand why the more protected south side of the river was the chosen location of their winter camp. The kids enjoyed the replica fort and exploring under the huge trees of the park. The trail network extending from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean and along the Lewis and Clark River are really impressive. We had a great time birding along the Lewis and Clark River and enjoyed learning more about the logging industry in the area.

The sheer number of exploration and learning opportunities in such a small area definitely makes the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks a must do when visiting the Astoria and Long Beach areas.


Learning About the Dangers of the Bar – Columbia River Maritime Museum

With our vacation rental house being situated right on the Columbia River we were eager to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum and learn all about the famous Columbia River Bar and why it is designated as one of the most dangerous ports of entry in the United States. Today’s very rainy weather made it the perfect day to spend our time investigating the exhibits inside and outside of the museum.

While the exhibits were well put together and informative we did find that the organization of the museum was lacking. The exhibits didn’t seem to be organized in any sequential order, so walking from exhibit to exhibit felt disjointed. However, the museum did a great job of providing information about the history of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. From the original Native American tribes, to the earliest explorers, through to today’s busy shipping industry that moves goods up and down the river.

There was a lot of information regarding the booming fishing industry that operated in the area and the large number of canneries that were set up along the shores. However, some of the most fascinating exhibits dealt with why the Columbia River Bar is so dangerous to ships and detailed the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred over the years. We enjoyed learning more about how the pilot boat system works and we were impressed to learn that every large trade vessel going up and down the Columbia River must have a specially trained pilot aboard. One for going through the Columbia River Bar and a separate for traveling the river.

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Although there were a few hands-on exhibits in the museum, the Younger Fives’ favorite part of the museum was getting to tour the Lightship Columbia which was anchored out in the Pacific Ocean about 5 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River for almost 30 years. We were met aboard by a very helpful museum employee who answered all of our questions about how the Coast Guard helps ships navigate through the bar and up the river. We were then able to explore the inside of the ship where the crew would sleep, eat, and relax when not actively working to help ships navigate between the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River.

All in all the Columbia River Maritime Museum was worth the visit. It wasn’t the most interactive museum that we have visited in our travels and the organization was definitely lacking. However, the wealth of information that it provided regarding the dangers of the Columbia River Bar was just what we were looking for.

Eat. Sleep. Ski. Repeat!

A top priority on our winter to-do list was getting out to the local ski area to introduce the kids to the sport of downhill skiing. As the winter progressed we kept our eyes out for the perfect day to hit the slopes with beginners (not too cold, not too snowy, etc.) Finally this past week the conditions were near perfect and we piled in the car and up the very steep and windy forest road to Lakeside’s own Blacktail Mountain Ski Area.


Since Five Spice grew up skiing she was excited to teach the kids the basics. However, Five Ball and Five of Hearts had their hearts set on trying snowboarding, so we ended up splitting up with Dad taking the snowboarders for a beginner’s lesson and Mom teaching High Five how to ski.

The snowboarders definitely had their work cut out for them as they tried to master this very difficult sport. From clipping and unclipping bindings by hand, to trying to maneuver around with both feet attached to a pretty heavy board they got a very good workout. By the end of the day they had progressed to the beginner trail, but were thoroughly exhausted from the efforts. In comparison the two that elected to ski felt bad as they zipped around on short, shaped skis that made turning a breeze. Not to mention that they didn’t have to unclip bindings every time they got on or off a lift.


While Five Ball and Five of Hearts were glad that they tried snowboarding their younger brother’s fast and easy success with skiing made them want to try out skiing as well. So, when the next day rolled around we headed back up the mountain for day number two, this time with the whole family on skis. Not surprisingly after braving the slopes on snowboards Five of Hearts and Five Ball were more than prepared to learn skiing and after just one instructional run down the beginner slope they were skiing like pros. The new shaped skis really make turning so much easier!

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With everyone proficient we were able to spend the rest of the day skiing the intermediate trails as a family. It was a lot more fun than the day before and we all had a blast! After a full 6 hours of skiing the kids were ready to ski into the night while mom and dad were ready for bed. Luckily for us old folks the lifts shut down at 4:30 and the kids had no choice but to turn in their skis. They reluctantly got back in the car with promises that we would definitely be adding downhill skiing to our must do winter activities list.

Nests and Raptors – A Visit to Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

On a very sunny Sunday we headed south along Flathead Lake towards Ronan, Montana hoping to see some serious raptor activity. We had read that Ronan is often the winter home to a number of Rough-legged Hawks who roost in the conifer trees at the base of the mountains and hunt for voles in the surrounding fields of the Mission Valley.


Soon after arriving in the Ronan area we began to see raptors from the car windows. We were especially excited to see a large Golden Eagle sitting in a tree just off the road (there was roadkill nearby). After spotting more than 5 raptors perched on road side telephone poles we decided it was time to do a little birding by foot and made our way to the Ninepipe Wildlife Refuge just down the road in Charlo.


This 4,027 acre refuge consists of mostly wetlands (reservoir, small ponds, and potholes) with an amazing view of the Mission Mountains. While there were several different access areas and a road through the refuge we chose to park and walk along the road towards the Ninepipe Reservoir. As we walked we spotted eagles and several more hawks. The weather was perfect for stopping to view them through our binoculars and spotting scope.

Our most favorite feature of Ninepipe was the stand of several trees near the waters edge with nests made by what we think were Double–crested Cormorants. We all enjoyed our walk out towards the nests and being able to view them close up due to the fact that the Cormorants are still down south. It will be interesting to stop back in the Spring and Summer and view the nests being put to use (from a further distance back).